What is a Cow County?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
A cow.
A cow.

A cow county is a rural county with a typically small population, and a history of dairying or other types of farming. The term is often used disparagingly, much like “hicktown,” to suggest that the residents are parochial and not familiar with the larger issues of the outside world. However, some residents of cow counties greatly enjoy their rural lifestyle, and will sometimes go to great lengths to defend it, as developers have discovered.

An Ayrshire cow.
An Ayrshire cow.

A typical cow county has a long history of raising cows for either dairy or meat, which means that numerous farms are often scattered across the county. The residents typically have rural attitudes, and the towns in a cow county tend to be small, with very basic amenities. In some regions, cow counties have also managed to gain a strong position in local legislature, due to the way that districts are drawn up; a county with a small population has the same representation as a county with a large population, and sometimes cow counties get together to exploit this.

A cow county will have a long history of dairy farms.
A cow county will have a long history of dairy farms.

Due to rapidly encroaching development and the industrialization of agriculture, many cow counties have found their traditional way of life under assault. The land in such counties is often broken up and sold be developers, as farms slowly go out of business because they cannot compete with larger, heavily mechanized farms. Many cow counties also struggle with an influx of city people, who move to the cow counties for their rural lifestyle, and often don't consider all of the implications of rural life in a cow county.

Some cow counties have fought back; farmers, for example, may band together to create a dairy cooperative to keep their farms viable, and to keep land in the family. In some cases, cooperatives have actually purchased farmland and put deed restrictions on the land to ensure that it will continue to be used for farming, preserving the rural character of their landscape. Cooperatives sometimes also focus on traditional methods of farming so that these techniques are not lost.

Many cow counties have very conservative values, which can be off-putting to people from urban areas, who tend, as a rule, to be more liberal politically. This can create values clashes as new residents in a cow county come into conflict with old timers, including people who have resided in the area for generations. Such clashes often illustrate class divides in addition to political ones.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I live in an agricultural state which means we are surrounded by farms and fields. We live on a few acres outside of the capital city, so even though we don't live in a cow county, much of our state is covered with cow counties.

After high school my son spent a summer living in the middle of downtown Chicago. When he came home at the end of summer, the first thing he said when he got out of the car was how nice it was to breathe fresh air.

Our state is also considered a very conservative state. Many of the values that families live by have been lived out for many generations on the family farms all across our state.


I grew up in the country, but after graduating from college got a job in the big city, and have never gone back.

One day I realized that my kids had never even been to a family farm, and I felt like they were really missing out on something.

I used to roam the cow pastures with my cousin and we would spend hours playing in the hay loft in the barn. Hearing the cows moo and the sounds of the chickens and farm animals was nothing unusual for us.

This makes me think of the saying, "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy."

It makes me sad when I hear about many of the family farms no longer being passed down to the next generation because they can no longer make a living at it.

Even though I know longer live in a cow county, I always have a lot of respect and admiration for those who choose to live their life this way.


I have never been a farmer or even owned any cows, but have lived my whole life in a rural community. Every where I go I pass by farms or see cows grazing out in the pasture.

I get frustrated when people tend to look down on the farmers and people who live in this type of place. If urban people like to make fun of this way of life, what would they do if they didn't have any beef to eat or dairy products to consume?

Because I have grown up in this atmosphere my whole life, I feel much more comfortable in the middle of cow county than I would in the middle of New York City.


The three counties surrounding mine are all cow counties, as is the one I live in. They are highly conservative, and though two of them contain bigger cities and more to do, a couple fight to keep their lifestyle calm and safe.

These two counties are dry, and they aim to stay that way. There have been numerous petitions and votes on possibly making it legal to sell alcohol in them, but only 40% of residents voted “yes.”

Those residents who want alcohol just have to drive about thirty minutes to buy it. I guess the farmers assume that legalizing the sale of alcohol in their counties would result in more mischievous behavior, such as cow tipping.


The term “cow county” sounds so funny to me. I have grown up around cattle, so I've never known what it's like to not see cows everywhere. I never would have thought of deeming an entire county a “cow county.”

Though my family has never owned cattle, I have always lived next to a pasture. My childhood home was surrounded on three sides by cow pasture, and I spent many sleepless nights listening to the mournful sound of a mother cow whose calf had just been sold.

Even when I got married and moved out, I moved into a rental home surrounded by cows. It is no strange thing to me to step outside every morning and hear mooing and grazing instead of traffic.


@shell4life – My county is not very accepting of what they deem strange people, either. There are more cow pastures than I can count around here, and the people who own them seem to be stuck in the mindset of the 1950s.

My boyfriend recently moved here from Chicago, and he has long hair. He has gotten lots of nasty looks from farmers, and even cashiers at the local store refuse to be friendly to him.

This is ridiculous to me, because he is the nicest person I know. They can't look past the fact that his appearance doesn't fit in with their perception of a normal man. It makes me want to get out of this cow county.

The residents don't realize that with an attitude like that, this town will never grow. In fact, it may see a decline in population, as they drive people away with their cult-like behavior.


I guess I live in a cow county, though I had never heard it referred to as that before. The majority of the residents have the same mindset, and they do strive to protect their way of life.

We can see the parents' attitudes reflected in their children. When I was in high school, there was an ongoing rivalry between the “cowboys” and the “skaters,” with the skaters being labeled rebellious and punks. Someone even spray-painted the words “no skaters” on the back of a stop sign at the end of my road.

With the exception of a few things like this, everyone is basically friendly. Even the people who don't know each other wave as they pass in cars, and my town is the only place I have ever seen this happen.

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    • A cow.
      By: Margo Harrison
      A cow.
    • An Ayrshire cow.
      By: Eric Isselée
      An Ayrshire cow.
    • A cow county will have a long history of dairy farms.
      By: Olexandr
      A cow county will have a long history of dairy farms.